Farm Progress

Carrie’s Column: A natural momma cow, dam gives birth to twins twice.

September 13, 2017

4 Min Read
NATURAL MOM: Although cows that have twins are known at times to abandon one of the calves, that’s not true with Whisteria. This cow is a natural mom, who has had six calves in four years, including twins twice. And when she has a single calf, she is eager to adopt another calf.

By Carrie Ann Tomko

She is just a cow named Whisteria. Or is she? When Whisteria came to the farm as a bred heifer, the gal that sold her stated, “Enjoy Whisteria. I have always thought she will make an interesting cow.”

At the time of Whisteria’s arrival to the farm, I had no idea what was meant by that foreshadowing comment. Now, I know.

Whisteria, a Blonde d’Aquitaine beef cow, is a natural mom. In four years, she has had two sets of twins. The likelihood of calving with twins is about 1 in 200. Whisteria is beating those odds. She has had six calves in four years, all from natural cover. And that six-pack of calves of her own does not count the times she has been eager to adopt and mother an extra calf — simply to get the double-calf experience.

Although Whisteria has made it look easy without ever a complication, calving of twins is no easy task for a momma cow, as well as for the newborn calves. Twinning can bring issues. From pregnancy to birthing to the management of young twin calves to breeding back, there are concerns for the cattle producer each step of the way.

Twin pregnancy
Cows that carry twins often deliver early. Due to size of the load the cow is carrying, it is common for the cow to go into birthing mode ahead of schedule. The calves can arrive one to two weeks earlier than for a single calf. As with all calving, it is wise to have appropriate chains and other equipment ready ahead of the expected target date, just in case assistance is needed.

Birthing of twins
The process of safely delivering twins can be dicey. Think about it: With two heads and eight legs to get expelled from the momma cow, the birthing process can trigger dystocia, or calving difficulty.

With twins, there can be the issue of malpresentation, where the calves are backward. It is also possible for the body of one calf to block the pathway for the other calf. And sometimes the cow can become exhausted during the process of delivering two calves, and she simply needs a boost of assistance.

Do not hesitate to contact a veterinarian should the cow be struggling and need professional intervention, especially if there is a retained placenta.

Management of twin calves
Once calves are born, added care is needed for a healthy start to their lives. First off, twins normally weigh in lighter than single calves and have a little catching up to do, especially if they arrived a week or two early. Secondly, twins might not suckle on momma cow at equal capacity. Encouragement might be needed to ensure that both calves receive the ever-important colostrum.


EXTRA CARE: Twin calves might require a little human intervention and encouragement to ensure that both receive colostrum.     

To keep an eye on the threesome during this critical time after birth, it is recommended that momma cow and her new duo have a pen or pasture of their own. A momma cow, who is not used to mothering two calves, might accept one calf, while abandoning the other calf. This private area for the threesome allows for close monitoring and bonding. Also, the momma cow will need a higher level of food intake to support the double duty required at her udder and, by being the only adult in the pen or pasture, she will not have to compete for supplement.

As for the twins, they, of course, can come in any of three varieties: two heifer calves, two bull calves, or a bull-heifer combination. Free martin is the name given to the heifer calf born as a twin to a bull calf. Because testosterone from the bull calf crossed over to the female in the womb, the female’s reproductive organs are often improperly developed. Chances are high that the female will not be able to breed, and thus given the free martin designation.

Whatever the combination in the twin variation, twin calves arrive in the world most likely a little smaller than a single birth, and the twin calves might experience a slower growth rate. But, overall, momma cow still did her best to double her output for the producer.

Breeding back after twins
When it comes time for momma cow to be bred back, be patient. Because momma cow is supplying nourishment to two calves instead of one, her nutrition requirements are increased to create output for her calves. And so, it is not surprising that her body condition might be delayed in her ability to experience a heat cycle.

While the twin’s mom requires more energy to produce milk for two calves, and while she may be delayed in her ability to breed back, cows that have twins have an average of almost 30% more total pounds of calves at weaning, according to the USDA Meat Animal Research Center.

Twins are rare in beef cattle. Some producers do not want anything to do with the potential complications that come with twins. However, those producers have not met Whisteria. She is a natural mom.

Tomko writes from Rittman.



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